Teenagers and Consequences

Practice makes perfect – especially in music. We parents hear a child practice, make mistakes, practice more, make some more mistakes. But eventually, with enough practice, they get it right, and we jump for joy. The same is true for decision-making. With enough practice, your child can learn to become a good decision-maker, and to become mature, responsible, and trustworthy.

Handing over some control, and setting good boundaries is essential to fostering maturity in your teen. However, we parents often don’t realize that unless we allow our child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain immature. I deal with this constantly in my work with struggling teens and their parents, who wonder why their teen is so out of control.

At the heart of this issue is one central theme – consequences. If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, well, it’s because they are irresponsible. And, they will not become responsible or mature, or wise, until they engage in the process of dealing with the consequences of their choices and behavior. It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

Sometimes a parent says, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child till I give them more responsibility or control, then they won’t have such difficult consequences?” My answer is that if you wait until you trust them, you will never give them any responsibility. You never will. And, they won’t learn how to face consequences and learn from them, or the consequences they face later on will be of a much more serious nature.

Don’t Wait…Start Early

Building responsibility and good decision-making takes practice, and you have to start earlier than you think. It is a learned process. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14

Start by giving responsibilities early. Give them a checkbook in the sixth grade. Give them a debit card with their allowance on it so they learn early how to manage it. Get an alarm clock and let them wake themselves up for school every morning. Let them keep a calendar and be responsible to let you know in advance when they need transport to and from events. Then, don’t take them if you don’t discuss it in advance. The consequence of not communicating about the calendar is, “you don’t get to go.”

When they begin driving, agree to periodically put money on a gas card. Then, when they prematurely run out of their gas allowance, don’t give them more. I guarantee it will be the last time they run out. In the process they will figure out how to manage their gas money.

The idea here is to stop helping teenagers so much – the way you have helped them when they were younger. While a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect our children, parents must make room for their older children to make mistakes. You help a teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then letting them figure out how to get back up.

In many cases, a parent takes control because they see an absence of a child’s self-control and there is a display of immaturity and irresponsibility. Parents of struggling teens often feel forced into the mode of over-control.

Avoiding Over-Control

Over-control happens when otherwise loving parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes, or by having too-strict rules and limits (Example: Not wanting them to be with others for fear of them learning bad habits, getting hurt, etc.)

Over-controlled children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They may also have problems taking risks and being creative.

Every culture on earth has a proverb that resembles this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.

Handing teenagers control and allowing them to face the consequences of their own decisions means:

  • They may get an “F” on their homework when they don’t turn in homework. When they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class. If they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school. If they don’t make it up in summer school, they won’t graduate. (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen just this way.)
  • They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus. If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well. Don’t write the excuse that gets them out of the consequences.
  • If they serve detention at school, then let them miss the football game on Friday night as well.
  • If they use the Internet to promote an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect it for a period of time.
  • Should they be arrested and it is obvious that they or the friends they were hanging around with are at fault, let them sit in jail for awhile. Don’t bail them out right away. Sitting in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If they are ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since they will not be driving your car.
  • Let them help pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving. Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree. If grades become unsatisfactory, then let them pay for the next semester. If you are paying for college, tell them the schools you are willing to pay for. If they wish to attend elsewhere, they can pay for it
  • If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need. Let them figure out how to pay for those things (like extra gas money). Doing without may teach them to stop spending foolishly.
  • If they are experimenting with drugs or alcohol, require them to pass periodic and unannounced drug and alcohol tests as a requirement to live in your house.
  • Let them decide how to pay for college next semester if this semester they spent more time partying than studying. And don’t finance an apartment or a car if they continue with that lifestyle. Let them decide how to finance that lifestyle themselves.
  • Turn off the TV, remove the TV, or cancel your cable if staying away from viewing inappropriate content is a problem for them. Loss of the TV is an appropriate consequence.

What it doesn’t mean is that you are a being bad parent by allowing these consequences to happen. Letting them experience consequences for poor reasoning is the best thing you can do for a teenager.

Pre-teens are just a few short years away from driving, earning, and spending. Make it your goal to create the environment where they learn responsibility, and grow into maturity. You want them to experience the Fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control, with the ability to make good decisions, and not be controlled by unhealthy things.

Are you willing to begin to relinquish control and therefore help your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be? It doesn’t mean you stop helping your child. It means that you wait to be invited into the problem-solving process, and even then you don’t solve problems for them. You let them face the music and experience the consequences of their own decisions. You set new boundaries, and let them move in the direction they decide works best for them.

You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there. Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

Navigating Your Teen’s Universe

Navigating Your Teen’s UniverseIt’s been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  And teens?  Well, they seem to be from a completely different universe!  Sure, teenagers look human, but the way they speak, the way they dress, and the things they value all seem to point to an origin in a galaxy far, far away.

But maybe I exaggerate.  Just because some elements of the new teen culture are alien to us, doesn’t mean our kids are from another dimension (even though it can seem that way).  Let’s face it; the world that our sons and daughters are growing up in is far different than the one in which we were raised.  When we wrote a school paper, we had to travel to a place called “the library.”  Students now have the all the information they need at their fingertips, just by visiting Google.  Our TVs carried three stations.  Today, teens have access to a thousand different programs, not only on TV, but also on their computers and phones.  I grew up respecting coaches, police, clergy, and those in authority.  Our teens live in a culture where the flaws and mistakes of those in charge have left them questioning their leaders.

You could likely come up with even more differences between your world and your teen’s world.  We could also spend considerable time beginning conversations with “I would have never done …” or “I couldn’t have imagined saying …” or “They didn’t have this when I was …” But I’ve come to realize that such nostalgic comparisons don’t accomplish much.  The homespun wisdom of how we navigated our world does little to help our teens survive theirs.  No doubt today’s culture is vastly different, and perhaps even more dangerous, than our own.  But instead of preaching the virtues of a bygone era, as moms and dads I would suggest we learn how to live in this culture, and guide our kids in the here and now.

In order to do that, let me offer a basic crash course on the universe your son or daughter currently inhabits.


The average teen today spends ten hours in front of a screen every single day.  Whether it’s the computer in the classroom, the TV in the living room, or the phone in their bedroom, kids spend a lot of time with eyeballs glued to monitors.  All that screen time is hurting our teens because it’s affecting their personal connections.  There is a lot more communication between teens these days, but a lot less interaction between them.  Kids are gaining tech skills, but losing social skills.  And it’s a loss that teens acutely feel.  That’s why social media is so important to young people.  They are hungry for meaningful connections, and so they gravitate towards Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, texting, and IM in order to interact with those around them.

But we know that nothing can replace the act of sitting down with another human being and conversing with them face-to-face.  Texts are fine.  But personal conversations are so much better.  Facebook friends are nice.  But real friends are valuable.  And more than peer-to-peer relationships, teens need a good relationship with mom and dad.  To help your son or daughter navigate this connection-starved world, shut off the phone, power down the computer, and turn off the TV.  Take them to coffee and talk with them.  Practice meaningful conversations around your house.  Show them how to communicate with a spouse and how to interact with friends.  The ability to maintain and develop personal connections is an invaluable tool teens need in order to survive this culture.


As I mentioned earlier, respect for authority has dwindled in today’s climate.  Authority figures don’t garner the same respect from teens anymore.  But it’s not only those in authority.  We live in a pessimistic society where no person or topic is off limits to derision.  The ability to mock, ridicule, and sarcastically put down others is considered a virtue.  Thrust into such a hostile and negative culture, it’s no wonder our kids have a tough time nurturing a sense of respect.

So how can you climb into their world and help your son or daughter navigate this problem?  First, know what music, movies, TV shows and websites your child is interacting with.  The purpose is two-fold.  First, you can monitor what your child is being exposed to.  And second, you’ll be able to actively engage in your teen’s life!  When you sit down with them, you can intelligently talk about the storylines of a TV drama.  You can discuss the antics of current musicians.  You can understand the draw of popular video games.  You may even surprise yourself and start to enjoy some of these things along with your child!  And if kids find out that you know what you are talking about, you’ll earn their respect.

But if you say, “That’s a bad movie!” or “Don’t listen to that song!” simply because you don’t like it, your teen is going to see right through you.  Then it’s no longer a discussion of the merits of media; it becomes a generational debate between Elvis and Lady Gaga.

If you want to teach your teenagers respect, begin by respecting them.  Listen to their thoughts.  Ask their opinion.  You don’t have to agree with them.  And you may still put your foot down about certain movies, music, or video games.  But if you engage your children with respect, they will be more likely to listen to your rules.  And then, model what it looks like to respect others.  Speak respectfully of government leaders, even if you don’t agree with them.  And don’t lob negative character assaults against people.  I hear parents disparage celebrities all the time, then wonder why their teens turn around and mock and ridicule other people, as well!  To gain and teach respect in this culture, you have to model it well yourself.


Here’s the truth; teens love themselves.  A lot.  We have given birth to a “me-first,” narcissistic generation.  Many teens walk around believing that the universe revolves around their needs, wants and expectations.  They think, “Success doesn’t come because we earn it; success should come because we deserve it!”

Moms and Dads, correcting this narcissistic mindset begins at home.  We may have to change our own behaviors and attitudes towards our kids in order for them to change.  Does your life revolve around your teen?  If so, put an end to that today!  Stop doing everything for your child, and let them start figuring some things out for themselves.  Let your son make his lunch for school each day.  Put your daughter in charge of managing her clothing budget.  Give your kids chores and responsibilities around the house.  Don’t drop everything to chauffer them to the mall, or help them with an over-due school project, or fix a problem they got themselves into.  Parenting a teenager should feel more like coaching, and less like being a butler.

And then, as a family, volunteer to help others.  If your daughter thinks the world revolves around her, take her to the rescue mission to help out.  If your son thinks he is the center of the universe, encourage him to use some of his hard-earned cash to support local missionaries.  When you model this kind of service as a parent, and then ask your teens to get involved, they’re more likely to join you with a willing attitude.  And by serving others on a regular basis, they’ll soon sweat out any remnant of that narcissism that remains.

Teens may be from another universe.  But that’s simply because they are trying to live in a culture that is vastly different than the one we used to know.  As moms and dads, if we step into the culture with them, instead of standing on the sidelines shaking our heads, we’ll find that we not only understand our kids more, but we help them become better people.  Remember; change starts at home. With you.

You might wonder, why is this whole topic of “Navigating Your Teen’s Universe” so important?  It’s because in a world where “connections” and “respect” are missing, and “self” moves to the forefront, you, as a parent, might just be the last hope for your child.  I’ve always thought that it’s not my job to pass judgment on a world that seems to be a mess, but to help teens navigate through the challenges it presents in their life.  And, I’ve found that my navigation in their world happens best when I make a “connection” with them, “respect” them for the challenges they face, and become “selfless”, with the intent of helping them, not just forcing what I think they need to do.  Remember, kids change because of relationship, not because of my forcing a lifestyle upon them.

May the Word in you become flesh and dwell among your kids in such a way that you offer help, and hope, and light in the darkness of this teen culture that is far different from the one in which you and I grew up.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

Releasing Your Teen into the World

Releasing Your TeenVery few comments made by high school seniors and college students can scare parents more than when they announce they have plans to go on a medical mission and travel to Guatemala, spend a few weeks in Rwanda with orphan kids, or go to Indonesia to minister to girls involved in the tragic and pathetic sex trade.  As they share their excitement and enthusiasm for their hopeful venture, parents shudder with nervousness about all the potential hazards of travel as their child’s first campaign to “fly the coop” and “make a difference” silently fade to the background as all the reasons they shouldn’t go come to a parent’s mind, shouting, “We can’t let this happen!”

Moms and Dads, when your child comes to you with plans to launch out and change the world, I would encourage you to consider what your child is actually asking, and reflect on this potential opportunity that is set before your family to affirm those character traits and values that you have spent years building into the moral fabric of your son or daughter.  This may be the opportunity that you have practiced for all your life, so be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Instead of thinking about all the reasons your child shouldn’t go, think of all that might be accomplished by giving your stamp of approval on what was first thought to be a bad idea. Realize that this may be a wonderful opportunity.  Consider these things.

They want to make a make an impact.  They want to fly and use the tools that you have given them.  They see a mission trip to a foreign country as a new adventure, an excursion of excitement and intrigue, and an opportunity to travel and see the world.   They have a sense of compassion because you have built it into their life.  They want to “go and make disciples” because you have shared with them the truth of scripture.  They want to help, because they have seen you help others.  Their longing is one that has been instilled in their life, because of your influence on their life.  And, because “their” world is more global than the world of teens ten years ago, distance or travel is no longer a barrier that limits their dreams or passion.

I always encourage parents to trust a couple of sure things as they release their kids to the world.  First, trust what you have taught them.  All the seeds that you have sown into their life will come to completion.  Scripture reminds us that God will “bring to completion” that which He has started.  And scripture reminds us (and encourages us) to not grow weary in doing good, for in due time you (a parent) will reap if you surely sow. Your “sowing” is not in vain.  A parent must trust what they have done, in hopes that a harvest will come later in the life of their child.

Second, parents must trust that God, who brought their child into this life, will continue to be involved in the life of their child.  The promise in scripture that tells us that He will never leave or forsake one of His own is a promise that applies to our children.

Now, I’m not saying that we should allow our twelve-year-old daughter to travel to western Africa to dig water wells.  Nor am I encouraging any parent to throw caution to the wind.  But I am saying that perhaps because our twelve year old will become that eighteen or nineteen year old young lady that might, one day, want to travel and “change the world” that we, as parents, not only teach, but train our kids to have the tools to accomplish their dreams when they come of age to be able to do so.

For all parents of tweens and teens, are you training your child to fulfill the great commission as it applies to their life?  Are you working on them becoming independent?  Are you helping them make good decisions, and training them to be able to do so, when the consequences of making poor decisions becomes more and more potentially life changing as the years pass?  Are you training your child about finances?  How to handle stress?  How to deal with disappointment?  How to not be influenced by people who have no interest in the wellbeing of your child?  How to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow anger?  How to take the scripture they know and apply it to the life they will be required to live?  These are all parenting goals to make sure your child is ready to fulfill the call of God on their life when He decides to call them to the task He has set before them.

And what if you haven’t trained them for a trip or adventure?  Then this “trip” they’re wanting to take might just be the opportunity for them to have a crash course on some pretty valuable character traits that need to be developed in their life.  I would rather have a young person learn these valuable lessons on the mission field under the guidance of a mission director and an organization that can teach some principles that were missed during their younger years, than have them learn these lessons on their own without someone speaking truth into their life when they need it the most.

If you’re like me, you receive plenty of requests from folks wanting to experience the mission field; and wanting me to financially help them change the world.  Well, this is what I’ve found.  The lives changed on these mission trips are not always the ones touched by the child who goes to change the world.  The lives who are truly changed are the ones who “go” and have their lives touched by the hand of God who uses a mission trip to affirm those qualities parents have been building into their child’s life.  They learn about the needs of others.  Their heart is moved with compassion, instilled by a Mom and a Dad, and fueled by interactions with people in another country, in another culture, living a life far different than the way they were raised.  And there is a change.  It’s a change that will one day change the world.

They learn to embrace the blessings of their life and the plenty that their family has provided while developing a thankfulness for their possessions and circumstances, countering the effects of a selfish and entitled culture in which they live.   I believe they make a connection with the very heart of God and capture His vision for all people.  They find the significance they desire, the impact they long for, and the feeling that their life does indeed matter, thus motivating them to further His Kingdom.  All because of a trip abroad, a trip to see another culture, and a trip dedicated to change the world of your child.  These trips are profitable for all involved and help your child…your young adult…find the significance for life that only a God of love can provide.

Moms and Dads, don’t miss out on the opportunity set before your child.  In Moses’ words to the Pharaoh, God would beckon you as a parent to “let my people go!”

Trust what you have taught.  And, trust that the God of this world holds your child in the palm of His hand, and wants to use your child to further His Kingdom.  It will change your family.  It will change your child.  It might just change you.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.